Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer of the Pipevines

Among gardeners, it is common practice to change environments and create the conditions required for a particular plant.  Want blueberries?  Acidify your soil, because the mid-Ohio clay is not going to work for those acid-loving plants.

It is also possible, within reason, to accomplish the same thing with butterfly gardening.  As I add host plants to my yard, I am creating habitat, where none existed previously.  It may be pushing the envelope for some, but I just have to have big excitement in my life!

Pipevine Swallowtail, denizen of the south
 Take for instance the Pipevine swallowtail. It is generally a southern species, at least in Ohio. You'll find plenty of them in Shawnee or maybe Dayton, but not in my half of the state.  So we are pushing boundaries by introducing plants that normally don't grow here.  We are not talking about introducing non-native to the U.S. plants, just plants that are not native to my state.  Butterflies don't see state boundaries anyway!.

Dorsal view of Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philnenor
This metallic blue butterfly is a trendsetter for his fellow lepidoptera. Because they are somewhat toxic and distasteful to birds, other butterflies (i.e. Red-spotted Purples, Spicebush Swallowtails) mimic the coloration in order to confuse predators. Since there are no Pipevines, or Pipevine  Swallowtail in northern states, the "red-spotted Purples in Michigan and New York have the "White Admiral" coloration.

Pipevine swallowtail caterpillar
 The Pipevines caterpillar has some kind of ugly going on.  It also utilizes nature's warning system of orange and black coloring.  Just like the Monarch butterfly, orange and black signals, "You don't want to eat me!"

The the flower is a 1 inch pipe!
 Pipevine Swallowtail are rare in northern parts, because their host plants are rare.  I have seen a native population of Pipevines at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.  The are apparently feeding on Virginia Snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria.  In southern states, the Pipevine uses a vine, Pipevine, Aristolochia macrophylla. It is a robust climbing vine, with unusual "pipe" shaped flowers.  The flowers are rather inconspicuous, but the butterfly makes it worthy of a place in my yard.

You might say I am practicing a little assistance for vegetation to keep up with the warming climate.  If it includes Pipevine Swallowtails free-flying in my yard, it works for me.

has become a chysallis.

The Pipevine caterpillar...
The caterpillar has fed on pipevine leaves for the last couple of weeks.  Next, he makes a run for it.  Many caterpillars travel away from their host plants before they go into their chrysalis, but these caterpillars were marathon racers!  It was nearly impossible to keep track of them as they wandered about.  

Finally, the caterpillar settled in and spun a cord to hold his body in place.  It will be a long winter and we won't see this guy again until next year (hint: he'll look quite different!)  This caterpillar's chrysalis was multi-colored ranging from brown to gray and spatter with orange.  One of his brother caterpillars has a lime green chrysalis, the better to blend in with the vegetation surrounding his chosen wintering location. 

If you would like to learn more about native plants and the wildlife which is sustained by native plants, I recommend attending the Midwest Native Plant Conference in Dayton this weekend.  If you are unable to attend, then head to your local library and check out this book by Douglas Tallamy or anything by Rick Darke.  Now they collaborated on a new offering- and I hope there are copies available in Dayton.  See you there!

Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden is now availableBy Rick Darke and Douglas W. Tallamy 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Story of a Wee Beastie

Once a long time ago, there was a wee beastie who had a very unhappy childhood and found himself locked up in a dog pound.  Fortunately for him, our family decided he would be a welcomed addition to our clan.

Argus circa 2002
The little fellow had some serious issues, but lots of love brought him around. He got over his shyness and flourished in his new found home.                              

J.J., Argus, and Shelly
He had a couple of co-conspirators who tried to undo all the good manners and training I worked to instill in him. Their favorite game was "London Bridge," or an adaptation of that children's game.  He would get in between them, until they put the squeeze on him. He loved every minute of it.

Holding the great beast at bay.
 Here's your blogger, a few years back.  Argus and I were very active in the local dog education scene. We were teaching the weekly dog obedience classes at the local Humane Society Shelter. He was so charismatic the clients loved him.  He could do all the lessons "off-leash" and had total control in a class full of wild dogs and puppies. I was often told that he "should be on television!"

Bird watching with the first grandchild, Maia.
 Argus had a way of empowering children, especially ones who were afraid of dogs.  Once they learned he would do whatever they commanded (sit, stay, come) they did not feel afraid, because they were in control.  He was also a huge hit at the local kid's program at church and visited the rest homes.  This guy was a well-loved working dog.

 He loved to visit his "kids" when they were attending Ohio University.  Here he is helping J.J. on an aquatic assessment project at the lake at Stroud's Run.  He was trying to tell them,"The fish are over here!"

Argus, the butterfly hound.
Argus was a big help at home, too.  He was a regular butterfly-hound and he often walked the transect at home stirring up the local lepidoptera.  When people asked what breed he was, we were always ready to tell them he was a BOUFU (Big ol' ugly friendly unknown.)

Yes, he was a ham bone!
Sure, he was on the Christmas cards, had run of the house and yard, and was a fabulous watch dog.  He was adored by man and beast alike and he had no enemies, other than some ding-dangy ground moles who didn’t deserve to live anyway. They hated his guts and feared him as a vicious predator. He didn't cotton any mice in the house or deer in the yard, either. That type of attitude suited me just fine.

Kozak was Argus'  understudy.
 He helped me train other dogs.  In fact, my only regret about this magnificent beast was the fact that we didn't train an understudy to take over his job here at home.

Whenever we would work with a dog, such as this gorgeous 75 lb. German Shepard pup, Argus was able to teach them what I expected, in half the time.  He did the work, I just had to hold tight to the leash on the understudy.

So here's to my wonderful friend, a working dog and beloved family pet.  He served his master well and was loved by all.  It wasn't too hard to let him go, cause I loved him that much.  We all knew a dog's life is short, but this fellow had twelve wonderful years of productive work,  and a family who loved him.  We are proud to say, it just couldn't get any better for a dog.  We kept up our end of the deal.

Thanks for bearing with me. I don't usually write about personal things and am not really looking for sympathy. I simply had a few words that I needed to get of my chest. Sometimes, writing can be therapeutic, but it is not quite as good... as the love of a dog.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Milkweed pollinators

Milkweeds are well known as the host plant for Monarch butterflies.  It is also an nectar source for many, many other insects.  This summer I have spent a lot of time in my garden monitoring my milkweed for Monarch caterpillars (none so far.)  The rewards for that effort has been witnessing a host of other amazing "bugs" in my yard and garden.

Giant Swallowtail nectars on my garden Milkweed patch.
This Giant Swallowtail butterfly was very fresh, nary a mar or mark upon it.  It must have recently eclosed from its chysalis. As a caterpillar this swallowtail probably fed upon the Prickley-ash in my yard.  By offering both host and nectar plants, my opportunities for butterfly watching and photography are greatly increased. Watching one of these seven inch large butterflies never gets old!

The Banded Hairsteak quietly goes about its business.
This Banded Hairstreak is a much, much smaller butterfly.  These diminutive insects require a good macro lens camera or a magnifying glass to identify.  There are numerous hairstreak species and the Banded is fairly common one.  It is a challenge sort hairstreaks to species. Advice to beginners: start with the size of the red and blue color cells.  They alone are often diagnostic.

Death trap to bees.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a robust plant, so no whimpy pollinators need apply.  It has a nasty habit of capturing little bees in "leg hold" traps. The pollinia of the milkweed is sticky and can hold a weaker bee in place. Not all bees get trapped, but if you look at enough milkweed, someday you will find one of these little guys hanging upside-down.  I have never seen a butterfly trapped by this mechanism, so lepidoptera (the butterfly family) must be better suited for the pollination of milkweed.

What are you finding on your milkweed plants?
If you are interested in learning more about milkweeds or pollinators,  I highly recommend the Midwest Native Plant Conference.  You will hear extremely knowledgeable speakers from all across Ohio and beyond.

One of my favorite resources for milkweed and pollinator information is Bob Klips of OSU.  Please check out this link on Bob's Brain on Botany.  Bob is also a speaker at this year's MWNP conference.  See you in Dayton!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Watching Jr. Grosbeak

There is an ongoing parade of colors in the yard.  Sometimes it is butterflies, often it is flowers, but recently it has been in the form of avian life.

Baby Grosbeak (male)
The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have nested and are currently raising young in our yard. This peachy-colored male has been visiting the feeder on a regular basis.  Early on his father brought him in and carried sunflower seeds to him. Now he comes all on his own. 

The awkward age. Who knew grosbeaks went thought a spotted-breast phase?
But sometimes the feeder is a bit crowded.  The local cardinals and titmice are busy gathering seed and bringing their own young to the feeder.  We won't even talk about those pushy House Finches and House Sparrows, both noisy, boisterous lots.

Jr. Grosbeak gleans from the squirrel baffle.
 This young grosbeak is a smart one, though.  Rather than dealing with the pushing and shoving, the standing-room-only at the feeder, he shops the bargain basement. Before now, I have never seen a bird meticulously glean seeds from the top of the squirrel baffle. He has the whole place to himself!

Bird watching arrangement.
My bird feeders have limbs attached to them- all the better to perch on , my dear. It is also better for photography.  The birds come and go in good numbers, and many wait their turn on the limbs attached right to the feeder.  The surrounding area is filled with native plants and much of my window is partially obstructed by vegetation. It makes a very natural looking blind. Those are Common Milkweed leaves you see peaking into the lower left side of the photo.

The "inside view" of my birding blind.
 The window treatment is a blind consisting of large wooden slats.  They create enough of a barrier that the birds pay very little attention to me as I stand and watch them feed and practice my photography. The top window is open; the camera lens sticks out between two of the slats. This arrangement presents very little distraction to the birds as they go about their daily lives..

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
This is a photo of Jr. Grosbeak's proud papa.  The male grosbeak would come into the feeder and check things out, with the juvenile 'beak close behind.  Because of my window "blind" and the perching limb, I am able to take some rather striking "natural" shots of the birds.  In actuality, the bird feeder is but inches away, but one could never tell from this uncropped shot.

This window set up also allows me to take some close-up shots without using much of my camera's zoom copasity.  Therefore, the resolution and quality is the shot is much better than one gets in the wild.

Hopefully, you have enjoyed meeting this wonderful grosbeak family as much as I have enjoyed filming them. It has been a profound experience for me!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gathering our "Tribe"

 The Butterfly Workshop  held by the Midwest Native Plant Society was another successful gathering of our "tribe."  These events are friendly, but focused, encounters of a like-minded group of people. Nature-lovers from far and wide gather to share information and knowledge and have a great time.(McCormac's recap of the event here)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus
 We were thrilled to see our old friends, both human and lepidopteran. There were not huge numbers of butterflies, but a good number of species were present. Our group had Tiger Swallowtail, Red Admiral, American Painted Lady, Silver-spotted Skippers, Pearl Cresents, Sulphurs, and a Peck's Skipper. Another highlight was the Hummingbird Clearwing moth, Hemaris thysbe.

Our tribe of nature lovers on the field trip.
 It is wonderful to be in the field with a group of people who are actively engaged in learning and finding nature in the field.  Everyone calls out their "finds" and we sort them out together.  Dragon and damselfly sightings were just as welcome as the saw-fly larva and prairie forbs we enjoyed together.

Sandy and Jeffery Belth
 And new friendships are made!  This is Sandy and Jeff Belth from Indiana.  Jeff has a book on the market called Butterflies of Indiana which is a good cross-over guide for Ohio.  I love the way his book is organized for easy ID of like species.  If you don't have if book, you will want to get it!

Jim Davidson and Jaret Daniels in the field.
Jim Davidson is a long-time friend and one of my favorite field companions. We met up with Jaret Daniels, author of Butterflies of Ohio (also an excellent field guide) for a little pre-scouting and comradery.

             Spicebush Swallowtail puddling
Real nature enthusiasts are just as excited to see a beautiful Spicebush Swallowtail as they are to see the larval form of these leps, the caterpillars. I brought my blue Rubbermaid bin that has become a traveling exhibit of Cecropia moth caterpillars. We had a good representation of silk moth caterpillars and a few butterfly caterpillars as well.  It was a very educational event all the way round.

A nature freak moment...
Part of the fun of these events is the good company we keep.  The speakers and organizers had their own little "nature freak" moment in a parking lot in downtown Lebanon, Ohio.  What could get this many people hanging out in a darkened parking lot late on a Friday night?

Chimney Swifts dropping into a chimney
 It was a flock of Chimney Swifts!  We had heard them circling above the city street and we followed them to the back of the building to watch the live nature show.  These birds roost communally at night, until they are ready to start south for the winter months.

On the corner of  Main Street
 So if you wander through Lebanon, Ohio some evening in the next moth or so, this is the building you will want to find.  It is probably their City Hall. The Chimney Swifts' chimney is located at the back of the building,

You might want to try dinner here,
The City Building is easy to find, as it is located right across the street from Lebanon's most historical landmark, Ohio's oldest Hotel, the Golden Lamb.  Dinner was wonderful, too bad the other dinners didn't know about the live show going on across the street!

Hope to see you all again at the Midwest Native Plant Conference!  A special thank-you goes out to Kathy McDonald, Jim McCormac and all the other wonderful people who help to put these event together and run them.  My hat is off to you!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

This summer I have been well entertained by a family of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.  Grosbeaks have consistently visited the feeders each spring, but this is the first year RBGRs have raised young in my yard.

This juvenile had darker marking on the back.
 The youngsters have a peachy wash about the chest.  This one was marked more heavily than others I have seen. He also shows a large amount of red under those stubby wings. It appears to be a young male.  Don't be fooled by the eyeline, as he will lose it next year. 

The adult male grosbeak has been bringing the young to the feeder.
The adult male grosbeak has been dedicated to these young. A few weeks back, the female would visit the feeder several times a day, but I have not seen her lately.  Mostly the male comes in, and shortly afterward he is followed by one of the young.  There has never been more than one fledgling at a time, but there are several different young birds.
This one seems to be the dominate male.
A  male Rose-breasted Grosbeak's marking are pretty variable. This bird. with the wider base at the bottom of the red marking seems, to be the older and dominate male.

One of the brothers
Two young males have also been coming to the feeder.  The black on their backs was still splotchy when they arrived this spring, but they seem to be maturing into attractive adults.  Both of the young males have nearly identical markings. Their red blazes taper to a very thin line streaking down their chests.

This family appears to be comprised of three active males and one female.  I have seen three different fledglings. It has been interesting to watch and sort out the family members, by their varied coloration.  It  is certainly easier to keep track these individuals, compared to most bird groupings that come to the feeders.

 I often have several Northern Cardinals or Blue Jays in the area, but I have never been able to sort them as individuals, other than ones that exhibit repetitive behaviors.

It has been a big thrill to host a grosbeak family in our yard.  But it has certainly kept me engaged in peeking out the window for extended hours. You know, this fall I am gonna miss those birdies when they are gone!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Salute to Cleveland's Vision

Monday July 7th was a historic day in Cleveland history.  It may not have been the history they were anxious to embrace, but it is historic non-the-less. It was the date of a terrible fire, and a heartfelt re-dedication to the Cuyahoga River.

This is a full salute- from the fireboat Anthony J. Celebrezze
There is something about a boat at full salute, water spraying wildly, that makes my soul rejoice.  I seldom miss life on the lake, but this sight alone can nearly bring me to tears.

 And this isn't just any old "fire boat."  It is the fire boat that put out the Cuyahoga River fire that ignited an environmental movement, and ultimately the Environmental Protection Agency. Go here to read the story.

 A generous crowd gathered on the lawn for speech-a-fying and general celebration of the Scranton Flats park. The firehouse lawn was a good and fitting location.

It was a celebration of the Canalway Partners, and I am mighty pleased with the efforts of my friends at Trust for Public Land who worked so hard to make this possible.  Where there was once industrial wasteland...

now there are birds, boats, and fishes in the river!  A bike trail complements the recreational possibilities. Cleveland is being reborn and is leading the way for urban renewal across our county.

Tim Donavan from Canal Way was the emcee.
 There was a full compliment of government officials, all who wished Cleveland the very best, and were undoubtly pleased when the GOP announced they would have their Nation Convention in this historic city.

One has to admire the hard work and dedication of Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur in their efforts to represent Ohioans.  Cleveland is fortunate indeed to have Congresswoman Kaptur reapportioned to represent!   

The Hon. Ralph Regula
It was also an honor to be in the presence of the Hon. Ralph Regula, long-time servant of Ohioans.  We probably would not be on the same page politically on many issues, but this man was the driving force behind the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. For that alone he will have my undying gratitude.

In his touching comments Congressman Regula sited the phase: "Where there is no vision the people perish..." (Proverbs. 29:18.)  It was a fitting verse for this auspicious occasion.

No one could be more pleased than me to see the vision that Cleveland is embracing for the future.  It was an honor to be a witness to this historic day.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Aquatic Plants

Water lilies must be a universally admired plant. In Egyptian times they were a popular motif in pottery and tombs, still highly recognizable in many forms of art.  French impressionist Claude Monet is not the only artist to admire these graceful floaters. 

A water-lily cultivar - non-native.
 And because they are so lovely, I understand why it might be hard to "just say no".  But I urge you, think twice before you introduce non-natives into a native pond or bog. We are not certain what the long term effects would be, but on a recent kayak trip, I noted these pink, eight inch non-natives look to be out-competing the native Nymphaeceae.

Fragrant Water-lily
Our Ohio native, a six inch water-lily is stunning in it's own right.  Add to its beauty an obvious fragrance, given its name: Fragrant Water-lily, Nymphaea odorata. They are relatively common on Ohio's shallow waterways.  Although lovely to look at, they can be a bit intimidating to paddle through!

Our smallest water lily, the Water-shield
Much smaller than the showy Nyphaceae, the Water-shield, Brasenia schreberi has eliptical leaves. The tiny pink flowers are rarely noticed.

The tracks of aquatic leaf miners. 
 The stunning patterns left behind by some aquatic forager created have some crazy artistic appeal. These four inch leaves captures ones imagination.  Certainly the patterns have inspired some form of art.

Water-shield in full, glorious bloom!
  And then, this caught my attention!  Unlike the other lilies, the insects were not attracted to the blooms of the Water-shield.  There were plenty of micro flies, bees and beetles scuttling about in the area, but none visited the little pink flowers.  Suddenly the wind picked up and the elongated stamens began a crazy hula dance!  I believe these are wind pollinated. Watch the video below and see what you think.

For better clarity (and Apple product users) go to to watch this film.

This is a little video of the Water-shield stamens dancing in the wind!  No insects need apply for pollination duty.

The less-than-stunning Spatterdock.
Another common flowering pond plant is Spatterdock, Nuphar lutea.  The thick mats of vegetation can pose quite a blockade to paddlers, and the smallish yellow flower is rarely sought out.

Insect appeal of the Spatterdock.
However, the insects seem to find it irresistible. There is even the pinkish colored lady-bug, Coleomegilla maculata on board. It is uncertain how she got out to sea, so to speak. If you want to learn more about our lady-bugs (beetles) go here.  Ohio has a website specifically for lady-bugs, as several species are becoming more difficult to find in recent years.

Our plants need to be pollinated to fruit and bear seed.  Most require insects to provide this essential service.  In light of our need to eat, we should be concerned with the health and well being of our pollinators.  Without them, we'll be down to eating grasses, and maybe the occasional water-shield!